- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) — The United Nation's World Food Program is already over-budget for its planned Iraqi relief program, according to the organization's spokesman.

"We will have to ask people to give us more, but we don't want to ask for money yet," spokesman Trevor Rowe told United Press International.

It has collected around $7.5 million for the effort so far, with the principal donors being the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark and Canada.

The organization has positioned food stores around Iraq sufficient to feed 900,000 people roughly 2,500 calories a day for 10 weeks, or 1.8 million for five weeks.

More than 60 percent of the population of Iraq — 16 million people — depends on government food, generated from the U.N.-administered oil-for-food program. If the United States attacks Iraq, humanitarian groups warn as many as 8 million could need immediate food aid.

"If there is an interruption then clearly you have a serious problem," Rowe said.

The oil-for-food program distributes 500,000 tons of food to Iraqis each month.

The rations in place are "an initial amount, intended to put us at the ready to respond to any crisis," Rowe said. "We anticipate if there is a contingency, anywhere from 5 to 10 million will need food aid," he said.

The food store is comprised primarily of wheat, beans, salt and oil, Rowe said. The food will be trucked overland to distribution centers, he said.

The Pentagon said Tuesday it has set aside 3 million vegetarian humanitarian daily rations to feed Iraqis in the event of an emergency if the World Food Program can not make its deliveries.

"Humanitarian daily rations are a tool of last resort," Joseph Collins, deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, said at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday. "However, we're obviously looking, first and foremost, to the World Food Program, and they are being funded as such, in conjunction with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, that they would come in and do a lot of the serious feeding work."

The United States has provided $24.2 million to U.N. agencies so far, according to Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group.

"The funding provided to date represents less than 20 percent of the funding that the U.N. system requires to position basic relief supplies. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is especially vulnerable to being overwhelmed by a large-scale refugee outflow. The U.N. requires $150-160 million to make the essential preparations for the humanitarian response," Refugees International stated Thursday.

Collins said the Defense Department will provide emergency assistance in Iraq but will largely look to non-governmental organizations and the United Nations to head up humanitarian relief efforts.

"Most of the NGOs are very keen on the U.S. military not getting too deeply involved in direct humanitarian assistance," Collins said. "When they interact with the U.S. government, they generally want to interact with the civilian faces that are over at State and (the Agency for International Development) who, after all, are the experts in this business. This is one area where the Department of Defense tends to be in support of other governmental organizations."

While the Pentagon expects a four-star general to be in-charge of post-war Iraq — most likely Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks — a senior civilian will head up reconstruction efforts.

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